President urges French to travel carefully after release of hostage held by al-Qaida

President Francois Hollande has urged French citizens not to travel to areas where they risk being kidnapped, as he greeted a Frenchman returning after being held hostage for three years by al-Qaida's North Africa branch.

Serge Lazarevic arrived in France early Wednesday at the Villacoublay airport outside Paris after being released in what some suspect was a prisoner exchange. His release revived questions about whether governments should negotiate with hostage-takers.

Lazarevic repeatedly thanked Hollande and the government "for having done everything to free me" — but neither he nor Hollande detailed what led to his liberation.

Hollande expressed "extraordinary joy" at Lazarevic's return, and urged his compatriots to "avoid zones at risk."

Lazarevic was kidnapped from a hotel in northeastern Mali in November 2011.